WHY I AM NOT OPTIMISTIC OR PESSIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem See, your king comes to you,  righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

I am not sure that I can remember a time when more people have been more disillusioned about the leaders of their country. The daily news seems to always have a litany of stories of incompetence and corruption. In my own country, we have been hearing a constant stream of stories about politicians who seem more committed to self-servingly filling their bank balance than serving the people who elected them. Then there have been the stories of hypocrisy, with national leaders telling the public to act in one way, while they do the opposite in private.

We are not the first generation of people to experience this discontent and disillusionment with our leaders. The people of Israel had experienced a line of frankly evil kings and then had been conquered and ruled by a series of foreign tyrants. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, the people of Israel had a double whammy of bad leadership. There was murderous King Herod who would even bump off members of his own family who he thought might be a threat and behind him the power of Rome that was almost bleeding the people dry through unfair taxes.

What did the people of Israel do? They did more than moan.

They did something I think we can learn from, the waited. They waited not passively but with a longing that drove them to their knees in prayer. They prayed over promises like the one made by Zechariah that God would send a King, who would be both righteous and yet humble, powerful and yet gentle.

And that King came of course, in the person of Jesus and the promise is that this powerful, righteous, and gentle King Jesus will return and rule with righteous and justice.

I felt a certain conviction as I reflected on this. In response to what I hear on hearing the news I have felt frustration, disappointment, and anger, I may even have shouted at the tv a few times. The one thing I haven’t done is prayed, prayed as those Jewish people did around Jesus’ birth for God to send the King he has promised.

Of course, the irony is that that is exactly what Advent should be all about. Advent is the time when we not only remember Jesus’ birth when he came into the world for the first time, it is also meant to be the time when fresh anticipation and desire for Jesus’ return should be stirred up within us.

Yet all too often this deep desire for King Jesus to return has been the missing note of Advent. I don’t know about you but that second theme has been largely missing from my experience of Advent. My focus has tended to be on gratitude for Christ’s first coming rather than longing for his second coming. Yet longing for Christ’s return is the antidote for my frustration and disillusionment with what is going on in the world right now. Advent reminds us that one day, power will be in the hands of the one whom Zechariah promised would be powerful and yet gentle, righteous, and humble. Zechariah’s promise gives us hope. The hope that no matter how bad things get, for us as citizens of the Kingdom of God, things can only get better for our King is coming back.

Perhaps I have been too invested in this world to long for the next? Perhaps I have been too frustrated with contemporary leaders to long for my coming king to arrive.

Henri Nouwen made an interesting point about all of this, he said that Advent should make us as Christians, not optimistic but hopeful. Here is what he said

“Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things—the weather, human relationship, the economy, the political situation, and so on—will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”

Nouwen reminds me that because of the promises of Advent of Christ’s return we should be neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the future, but hopeful.

What about you this Advent, have you been longing for Jesus to return, or are you comfortable in your frustration?

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